and I'm all out of bubble gum…

I just slapped together a very quick plugin for a teacher’s blog that adds a [category] shortcode to WordPress. Basically, it just passes through all of the attributes of the shortcode as parameters to wp_list_categories(), allowing the user to embed a list of blog categories in any page, post or widget. This feels like something that should already exist (but I couldn’t find it).


April 23rd, 2010

Posted In: Blogs, How To

Tags: , , , , ,

This post is part of a series that are components of my “Expert Plan” at my school, looking to create a shared resource for my colleagues as the school moves towards greater adoption of laptops and technology in our pedagogy.

The Model

One goal of [my media design class] and [my computer animation class] is for the students to develop a portfolio of completed work that demonstrates their skills and creativity in digital design and presentation. In both classes, I have been collecting projects and final products on the [local network shares] and (in the case of [media design]), on Flickr (more on the Flickr experience specifically under Social Media).

At the end of the digital photography unit in [media design], I asked my students to draw on their body of work to present a portfolio of the 5-7 most representative pieces, and to post these pieces, with some annotation, to our class blog. The students each created a category on the blog for their portfolio (so that we could bring up everything related to their portfolio on a single page). I posted my (public) feedback to the students into these portfolios, and asked the students to provide feedback to each other (in public) on the blog as well.

A major part of my rationale for asking the students to publish their portfolio to the blog was to provide them with a public arena for “publishing” their work, hopefully pushing them to take pride in their presentation (and allow them to share with their friends, family, etc.).

In Practice

Thus far, one unit (digital photography) has been posted to the blog. I anticipate that we will post videos shortly, although this may be a more restricted process (I don’t feel good about publishing interviews with students to the world without some pretty clear and explicit permission from the families involved). We may end up having conversations about the videos on the blog without embedding the video (instead, we will probably link to the videos posted on a Ning).

I would like to get my computer animation class to the same point of presenting their work in a portfolio, but the lion’s share of the file collection and organization has been mine. The students in that class have had far more problems losing their files, misnaming them, forgetting to turn them in, and so forth. In fact, on Parent’s Night, I realized that, although I had required a JPEG of each model that that they had constructed, such a vanishingly small minority of the students had turned those files in (and had, therefore, taken a full grade hit on their scores), I didn’t really have enough to put together a slide show for parents.


One unanticipated issue (on my part), was the difficulty the students had in distinguishing between when I wanted them to create a new post of their own, and when I wanted them to comment on someone else’s post. I think (based on their most recent performance), that this is a confusion that is dissipating, but that a good clear explanation of the structure of a blog might have been a good place to start.

I fell into the classic trap: I believed that my students were more technologically able than they are, based simply on their appearance as “digital natives” — particularly embarrassing, as I have spent the last few years railing against this assumption! (Students know how to do something better than teachers — play video games, watch YouTube, IM — but are vastly deficient in the critical and analytical skills related to thinking and learning, which we have learned through years of education (and so will they, albeit moderated through more extensive use of technology).

November 22nd, 2009

Posted In: "Expert Plan", Blogs, Educational Technology, Teaching

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This post is part of a series that are components of my “Expert Plan” at my school, looking to create a shared resource for my colleagues as the school moves towards greater adoption of laptops and technology in our pedagogy.

The Model

Particularly in my [media design] class, which is fundamentally more process-driven, but also in my more application-driven computer animation class, I want to push my students to think critically about their own work and the work of their peers, and to reflect on that feedback (and, potentially, my feedback) in a constructive, forward-looking, “lessons learned” manner. To this end, as we reach the end of a project or unit, and we critique work presented, I ask students to respond the criticism that their work has received (while simultaneously providing similar criticism to their peers). I have them post their responses to our class blog, and then ask them to review each other’s responses, posting comments on ideas or insights that are particularly interesting or challenging to them.

In the interest of “pre-thinking” big questions before students arrive in class, I may also present them with a big question and a list of resources as a starting point for beginning to think about that question. I ask them to post their response to the question to the blog as a way of ensuring some level of thought and reflection prior to class, and ensuring that our class discussion can go further and deeper, rather than getting bogged down in background material.

In Practice

This is definitely something that works better the more you do it. And initial forays will be deeply disappointing. The best advice I’ve ever received about asking students to be reflective (especially in public) is that you have to have one or two “throw away” assignments where the focus is on getting the process under their belt, without regard to the quality of the outcomes.

By the middle of November, I have really asked my students in [media design] class to critique and reflect on our class blog only a couple of times, at the ends of units. This is, perhaps, not frequent enough for them to develop real facility. I have interspersed the feedback reflections with the big questions, so that they stay in the habit of posting to the blog every couple of weeks.

I have found, however, that the process of pre-thinking (first espoused to me by my colleague Anna Reid at [my previous school]), is very effective. Particularly when done regularly (I have also used online reading quizzes in a similar way, asking open-ended questions based on the reading to focus their thought while providing mandatory accountability.) I found, for example, that when we sat down to discuss issues of copyright and Fair Use in class, the students who had posted had already developed much more nuanced and thoughtful perspectives on the issues, and that we had a much deeper and more informed class discussion than we had had on the introduction of the assignment before the weekend. (In fact, when presented with optional reading assignments, most of the students read them as well.)

The process of developing an online conversation, in which students are actively commenting on and discussing each other’s ideas and work also requires more development. I have assigned a couple of rounds of online commenting, asking students to post n responses to each other’s work, but have not had in depth discussions of those comments. I have modeled this commenting, particularly early on, although the process of commenting on every student’s work quickly begins to (at least) feel prohibitive in terms of time.


This is actually an area that I want to really hammer away at over the rest of the year. I think that the payoff — not potential, but actual payoff — is huge, in terms of helping students both learn to think critically about their own and other people’s work, and to develop their own perspectives based in evidence rather than hearsay. The big challenge for me, is to really embed this in the routine of my class. (I have mentioned this elsewhere, but the adjustment from 4-5 class meetings per week to just 2-3, is really messing with my rhythm… and I didn’t have terribly reliable rhythm before this.)

November 22nd, 2009

Posted In: "Expert Plan", Blogs, Educational Technology, Teaching

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,